Friday, March 28, 2014

Environment: Commission takes Greece to court over failure to protect iconic species

European Commission, Press release, Brussels, 28 March 2014:
 The European Commission is taking Greece to Court for a failure to provide adequate protection for endangered sea turtles. The case concerns developments in Kyparissia Bay in the Western Peloponnese, one of the most important nesting beaches for caretta caretta loggerhead turtles in the Mediterranean, and an area protected under EU legislation. A high number of developments and construction activities are being tolerated and given permits in the area, and the developments are having a significant negative effect on the endangered turtles. On the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission is referring the case to the EU Court of Justice.

Under European legislation, Member States must establish and implement an effective system of strict protection for species such as the sea turtle caretta caretta, a species that is under threat all around the world. These measures oblige Member States to ensure that species are not disturbed during their breeding period, and to limit any activity that might lead to a deterioration of the animals' breeding sites. Kyparissia Bay is protected under Natura 2000, an EU-wide network of nature protection areas established under the 1992 Habitats Directive. The aim of the Natura legislation is to assure the long-term well-being of Europe's most endangered species and their habitats

The Commission first raised its concerns in a letter of formal notice to the Greek government in October 2011, and repeated them in a 'reasoned opinion' one year later. Greece acknowledged the need for measures and prepared an Action Programme and a timetable for its implementation. But almost two years after the preparation of the programme little progress has been made. The Commission has learned that construction developments are continuing and that the turtles' habitats protected under EU legislation are suffering as a result. As the 2014 nesting season is about to begin, it has therefore been decided to call Greece before the EU Court of Justice.

Caretta caretta loggerhead turtles are mainly carnivorous animals that grow up to a metre long and can weigh up to 170 kilos. It is thought that 80% of the loggerheads nesting in the Mediterranean now nest on the coasts of the Ionian Sea, mostly on the island of Zakynthos, on six beaches that total only five kilometres in length, and in Kyparissia Bay. There are between 800 and 2000 nests each year. Loggerhead turtles are an endangered species, classified as "facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future." They travel vast distances at sea, before returning to nesting areas. Females lay eggs in nests 2 - 5 times in one breeding season, returning to breed every couple of years.

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